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Monday, January 29, 2018

The Morrigan is not my Sex Goddess

I want to start off by acknowledging that we all see the Gods differently and I know that sometimes a person can relate to a deity in a way that is unusual (comparatively) or unique to them; maybe this is how they need to see that deity for personal reasons. What I want to address here is something that I've seen more and more often among people discussing the Morrigan, and that is the idea that she is a goddess of sex or sexuality - not that an individual relates to her that way but that it is a definitive part of who she, as a deity, is. People even claim that it is one of her main purviews. I've seen it said in many places by many different people, and in a wider way we can see it reflected in the way she is often shown in artwork: scantily clad (or nude), alluringly posed, oozing sex appeal even on a battlefield or among corpses. 

Banshee by WH Brooke, 1824, public domain

I won't address the statue issue here, as John Beckett recently blogged about that and I think he covered the imagery aspect of the discussion fairly well. I will only say that I don't think clothes or lack of clothes is the problem. I love Paul Borda's Morrigan statue, which depicts her nude and as a warrior. I don't find it sexy at all or male gaze oriented and I think that's the key. One can be naked and powerful or one can be naked and vulnerable, and too often the 'nude Morrigan' artwork shows her as the latter. And I'm sorry people but when she's being shown looking like a very young woman who couldn't physically hold the blade she's carrying - or is holding it point down over her own foot! - it's pretty clear that the image isn't meant to depict a powerful goddess but simply an attractive female body.

What I want to discuss here is why, exactly, this idea of the Morrigan as a goddess of sexuality and sex is problematic to me and why it concerns me to see it spreading.

One of the most often repeated things I run across is the idea that the Morrigan has lots of lovers among the gods, or her stories are full of sexual trysts with gods and mortals. So let's start by looking at the Morrigan's mythology and when and how often she has sexual encounters. Don't worry this won't take long.
The Cath Maige Tuired:
"The Dagda had a house at Glenn Etin in the north. The Dagda was to meet a woman on a day, yearly, about Samain of the battle at Glen Etin. The Unish of Connacht calls by the south. The woman was at the Unish of Corand washing her genitals, one of her two feet by Allod Echae, that is Echumech, by water at the south, her other by Loscondoib, by water at the north. Nine plaits of hair undone upon her head. The Dagda speaks to her and they make a union. Bed of the Married Couple was the name of that place from then. She is the Morrigan, the woman mentioned particularly here." (translation my own)

Tain Bo Cuailgne: "
Cú Chulainn saw coming towards him a young woman of surpassing beauty, clad in clothes of many colours. 
‘Who are you?’ asked Cú Chulainn. 
‘I am the daughter of Búan the king,’ said she. ‘I have come to you for I fell in love with you on hearing your fame, and I have brought with me my treasures and my cattle.’
‘It is not a good time at which you have come to us, that is, our condition is ill, we are starving (?). So it is not easy for me to meet a woman while I am in this strife.’
 ‘I shall help you in it.’ 
‘It is not for a woman's body that I have come.’
‘It will be worse for you’, said she, ‘when I go against you as you are fighting your enemies. I shall go in the form of an eel under your feet in the ford so that you shall fall.’ 
‘I prefer that to the king's daughter,’ said he.'"
 - Tain Bo Cuailgne, Recension 1, O Rahilly translation

So there you go. That's it.
In the first example we see the Morrigan and the Dagda having a pre-arranged meeting at a set time and place, and it should be noted that the two are likely married. The reference above notes this when it says the place they lay together was called 'the Bed of the Married Couple' and the Morrigan is called the Dagda's wife in other sources like the Metrical Dindshenchas. In the second example - which please note does not occur in all version of the Tain Bo Cuailgne - we see the Morrigan approaching Cu Chulainn disguised as a young woman and proclaiming her love for him. I am highly suspicious, as are several scholars, of the genuineness of this and believe it is most likely a trick to try to get him to abandon the ford he is guarding. Some scholars have suggested this bit of narrative was added later by scribes unfamiliar with the Tain Bo Regamna who needed an explanation for why the Morrigan then set herself against Cu Chulainn. In any event as you can see she never actually offers him sex or tries to seduce him, although she does offer her love and her goods as what would have been either a wife or as a mistress.

In fairness I will add that there is, as far as I'm aware, one description of Herself appearing naked, from the Cath Magh Rath:
"Bloody over his head, fighting, crying out
A naked hag, swiftly leaping
Over the edges of their armor and shields
She is the grey-haired Morrigu
(translation mine)
In this text the Morrigan is specifically described as grey-haired and a hag, and is leaping over an army about to engage in battle, shrieking. 

Why then is it repeated so often that the Morrigan is a sexual goddess and has multiple sexual encounters?

At this point I think a lot of it is simply the internet effect, where one website stated it as a fact at some point* and now it gets repeated and passed on as fact. The idea appeals to people for different reasons. In my own experience I have found that some men like the idea of the Morrigan as a goddess of sex and as sexual because it allows them to relate to her the way they would to a beautiful human woman. I have seen some women like this idea because they find it sexually empowering for themselves. There is also, of course, the fact that in video games and fiction she's shown as sexual and sex focused, and while those are fiction and entertainment we can't underestimate the way that does impact how people start to subconsciously relate to the deity.

Macha Curses the Men of Ulster, 1904, public domain

That all sounds like it could be good, but it concerns me on a couple levels. Firstly, while I do appreciate the desire for women to feel sexually empowered and to look to a goddess as a role model here, reshaping the Morrigan to do it is only reinforcing existing Western ideas of beauty and female power - we focus on the Morrigan as a young beautiful woman who is powerful because she engages in sexual relationships with men on her own terms. That seems great on the surface, sure, but what about seeing her as beautiful as the naked hag? As the red-haired satirist? As a crow or raven? What about seeing her as powerful without a man? Or simply acknowledging her power as a goddess of battle, incitement, prophecy, and sovereignty? Basically my question is why do we have to make her into something she isn't when she already is beautiful and powerful in a different way

The other side of that coin, the objectification, is a more complicated problem. It seems to me to rest not on redefining her power but on reducing it by taking a fearsome goddess of several things that are genuinely terrifying for humans and making her into a deity of things humans find pleasant and enjoyable. Instead of a deity of war and death she becomes a goddess of sexual pleasure; instead of a screaming hag above armies she becomes a young girl with come-hither eyes and barely there clothes. And to me that speaks volumes about containing her power by limiting her to ideas and to an image that our culture sees as both safe and inherently disempowered.

Yes gods evolve and change with their worshippers, but that change in the past was usually organic and a slow process. We live in a world now where a single person can assert something as fact and that assertion, based in nothing but one person's opinion, can then spread quickly and far as fact - and that in my opinion is not how the evolution of gods has ever worked before. When we take a being with history and depth and layers of mythology and detach them from their own stories and personality and make them nothing more than a mirror for our own desires we aren't engaging with deity anymore, whether we see deity as archetype or as unique individual beings. Perhaps in time there will be a new deity - a new version - of the older goddess created from this milieu of rootless belief. But it will not be the Morrigan of Irish culture, it will be something created from modern beauty standards and sexual mores. And we need to be aware of that and of what that really means.

So, the Morrigan isn't, in my opinion, a good candidate for a sex deity - but then who is? Well, I think when we look at the Irish pantheon the Dagda as sex god makes a lot of sense. But I also think that all the same cultural reasons why we, collectively, want to force this title into the Morrigan are the same reasons we avoid it for the Dagda. When we make a powerful female figure more sexy we make her safer, particularly when we are using imagery and language that hinges on defining her by roles our society sees as weaker. When we make a male figure more sexually imposing though one of two things happens: its comedic or its frightening. The Dagda is a physically big figure, a warrior, powerful - the idea of his being a sex deity may frighten some people. He is also often mislabeled as an 'all father**' deity and envisioned as a kind of red-haired, portly Santa-type and our culture really dislikes seeing that as sexy, we'd much rather find comedy in it. And that is also something I think we should give some serious thought to.

People are always free to hold their own opinions. I have shared mine here, and my reasoning for why I think and feel as I do. The Morrigan is not a sex goddess for me, or a goddess of sex or sexuality. But she is fierce, and beautiful, and powerful. She is a goddess of personal autonomy and of the sovereignty of kings. She is the land, blood soaked after battle, and the shrieking cry of warriors plunging blade-first into conflict. She is the voice that inspires the downtrodden to rise up and fight for freedom, and the whispers of prophecy foretelling the fate of all. She is awesome in the oldest sense of the word. And that is enough.

*this is exactly how the idea that falcons are connected to her and that she is a goddess of rebirth happened. One website more than a decade ago, run by someone who was very honest that they were posting channeled and personal material said it, and it spread from there. Once it was accepted into the common belief no one really knew where it had come from or why they believed it.
**as I've said previously ollathair doesn't mean all father but great or ample father. It certainly connects him to abundance but not to physical proliferation. 


  1. Thanks for posting. Your thoughts are very interesting, and I mostly agree. I don't have anything to add to the conversation save that I connected to the Morrigan via divination once, more on a whim than anything else, and was basically told that my intrusion upon her person was offensive for its frivolousness and I would be wise not to repeat the offense.

    I wouldn't want to be one of the people reimagining her into a submissive sex object if she ever took notice.

    I think your reverence and regard for the Morrigan is laudable and I wish it were more widespread.

  2. Excellent post! I suspect a lot of people are having unconscious difficulty with the power of the Morrigan, and are redefining it into a form that is significantly more recognizable, and less challenging, to our culture.

    I have similar frustrations over the popular ideas about Brigid. Yes, there are three Brigids. No, that does not mean She's a Triple Moon Goddess in the Wiccan mold. Yes, Her festival is at the beginning of spring. No, that doesn't mean She can be pigeonholed as a Maiden Goddess (again, a la Wicca). Yes, She's a healer. No, that doesn't mean She's always just sweet and comforting--She is also a smith, and being on her anvil is not a comfortable experience. Not to mention the fact that healing is a complex, frightening, often agonizing process, or that midwives traditionally stood by the threshold of Life and Death. I could go on, but you get the gist!

    I'm grateful for your book on Her, as it packs a lot of good information into a very compact text, but it's going to take quite some time to flush out the misconceptions about both of our Ladies.

  3. Nice article. I haven't met the Morrigan in person but from what I know of her she comes across as far more imposing than sexy and her sexualisation seems to be an attempt to create her in the image of our hyper-sexualised society.

    Additionally, I have a question, and as I can't find a contact for you I'm going to ask it here - what are the original sources for the Gaelic Airts which you tend to find referred to in Wiccan/Witchcraft books such as Doreen Valiente's 'ABC of Witchcraft'. She says east is 'airt' and associated with crimson and dawn, south is 'daeas' and associated with white light and high noon, west is 'iar' and associated with brownish-grey and twilight, and north is 'tuath' and associated with the black of midnight. Is this corroborated by the original sources?

    1. It's hard to be totally certain where Valiente got the concept. Marian McNeill does discuss the airts in her 1956 book 'The Silver Bough' but not in the same detail Valiente does. McNeill only notes that it is about moving sunwise, or clockwise, and the only thing she correlates is east with spring; south with summer; west with autumn; and north with winter. There was a folk practice associating winds with different directions and colors, but there were more than four of those...If I had to guess I'd say Valiente may have based her system off of the traditional airts but added in the ideas of colors and moved from seasons to times of day?
      The names she assigns to them are kind of odd. Airt is Scots for 'direction'; daeas isn't a word but deas means south in Gaidhlig; iar is west in Gaidhlig; tuath can mean north in Gaidhlig.

    2. Many thanks for your reply. So there's no older source for the Airts as both directions and winds then? It seems Valiente or others at her time meshed them together?... I had also come across colours assigned to the directions and winds. Do you know of any sources for those folk traditions?

    3. Thank you for the post. The Morrigan is not a sex goddess that is responsible for pleasure. Her sex act in the union with Dadga was that of goddess to king, to confirm his rightful place. It was to bring good luck and to provide victory in war, not for Dadga to get "off." The pose over the river was power and strength, not to stimmulate sexual appetite.

      The Morrigan is much more than a sex toy, but rather a strong positive, independent woman who had her own power, to reduce her to something basic is wrong and un-nerving.

  4. Thanks for the post.
    I am starting in paganism and since I had knowledge of this Goddess, something very strong called me and attracted to her, yes, she is strong and beautiful for being just a brave warrior, but it is true that before arriving here, go through Hundreds of sites where they describe her as a sexual Goddess, so I heartily thank for the existence of this type of texts so that novices like me, we do not adopt unhealthy and false beliefs.

  5. But even if her character was usually frightening, the Mórrígan could also assume a bewitching appearance: sometimes she seduced warriors, especially in critical moments, on the eve of battles. ~ Cath Maige Tuired

    1. There aren't any examples of this in Irish mythology though. Her encounter with the Dagda in the Cath Maige Tuired was a pre-arranged yearly event with her husband, the Dagda, and its clear she didn't seduce him as such. the story of her disguised as Buan's daughter meeting Cu Chulain in the Tain Bo Cuiligne is a complicated one.